ta-ra negativity.

Last week I was all ‘Taiwan this and Taiwan that’. For really, it’s an amazing place! As soon as I returned to China I became grumpy and negative about everything that wasn’t Taiwan. How come no-one was standing in line? Why couldn’t I buy delicious jelly in the 7/11? How come my apartment didn’t get to smell like chocolate brownies and fresh coffee? I wandered around hugging my bag with the Taiwanese flag, and jumped around with glee when my friend gave me a Taiwanese flag sticker which I so proudly stuck onto my SHENZHEN metro card. But today as I was wandering along my street I couldn’t help but think to myself how much I used to love China. Infact, I probably still do, but beautiful Taiwan stole my heart for a while and I couldn’t think of anything else. However, I’ve had a breakthrough. As I ran home through the rain, without an umbrella (it was stolen from my bag when I landed at Shenzhen airport last week…), rain filling my ridiculous ballet-shoes and dripping off my nose, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It really did feel cleansing and somehow, it seemed to restore a whole new realm of hope in me, with regards to my life in China. I was thinking about all the silly things I complain about- the spitting, the smoking, the staring, the hazy weather…allow me to stop…because actually are they really such a big deal? When it really comes down to it, I actually genuinely miss China, almost every time I leave! Almost! This huge, chaotic, sprawling land has been my home for over two years, and clearly that must mean something! Everyday usually provides some form of entertainment, whether in my favour or not. But it’s never dull. Infact, it’s absolutely filled with adventures and quirky moments. It’s not going to be easy to give this up…China, can we be friends again…? :)

How can you love without a ‘heart’?

traditional Chinese character for LOVE- with a HEART.
simplified Chinese character for LOVE-NO HEART!!!!!

I was on the beach near Dulan, in Taiwan, when I started writing I love Taiwan, in Chinese, in the sand. My Taiwanese friend was like ‘NO, don’t write it in simplified, especially not the character for love; let me show you the traditional way of writing it.’ That’s when it dawned on me! In the simplified character for love, there is NO heart. NO HEART, PEOPLE!! When simplifying Chinese characters to help make as many people as possible literate on the mainland, what on EARTH were they thinking when they removed the ‘heart’ component from the character for love?! How can you love without a heart? Is this even possible? It gave me a lot to think about and I started wondering how many other characters out there have also had their main function just stolen from them?! Love without a heart? Nope, not going to happen. But this is why I love Chinese characters…so much analysis can be done with just one character. I’m going to start looking out for other characters with unique stories like the one for ‘love’. But seriously…it’s pretty fascinating hey!

there is no ‘the end’

Oh, hello Taipei, I’m home!

I woke up very early as I was planning on going to Jiufen, but I suddenly realised how tired I was, how much I had to prepare before I leave and how much I freaking love Taipei. I just wanted to spend one more day enjoying this whimsical city! I decided to to take a stroll along to Da’an Park, seeing as it was really close to the friend’s apartment I was staying with. The sun was scorching hot and the streets were fairly quiet. I watched the squirrels flirt and play up and down the tree trunks. A young guy took a nap on a nearby bench, soaking up the rays. I lay myself down on the grass and just let my mind run free. Had I really experienced these past 13 days? Every little moment seemed so special and I was genuinely sad it was coming to an end. I felt so at home in this city. I must have got lost in a dreamy daze because pretty soon I realised at least 10 mosquitos were feasting on my legs. I took this as my cue to run on home (wow, did I just say home?!!) and I called one of the other trekkers to see what she was up to. We met in the Shi Da area and went to the cutest little cafe opposite Grandma Nitti’s. Tea, cake, blueberry slush, and lots of love for Taiwan. We came to the conclusion that we’d just have to move here, it’d been that fantastical!! When the stars started appearing, we sped across the city to pick up my Lomography films. To my dismay, one of them hadn’t worked out…Obviously the battery must have died and I hadn’t noticed. This made me sad because I was sure this was going to be my best film yet. But I guess this is the risk you take when you don’t go digital. Luckily my first ever Lomokino film had worked, and as soon as I’ve added music to it, I’ll post the YouTube link here. It turned out pretty cool, even though it’s really short. But I like it! After this I went to the famous DinTaiFung to enjoy some delicious dumplings with some of the lovely people I’d met along the way. We then took a wander through the never-ending alleyways of the Yong Kang Jie area. We settled for a little cafe called ‘Flat White’ which apparently does great coffee. I opted for a refreshing apple cider, yum! The cafe has a very trendy, minimalist vibe, filled with students working on projects. It was pretty cool! After saying goodbye, or rather a ‘see you soon’ to my friends, I went home for one last dreamy sleep in my new favourite city, Taipei! 

The next day…

Bags at the door, I threw myself onto my friend’s beanbag and sunk in, not wanting to leave. Taiwan had really crawled under my skin and I just couldn’t shake it. What was it about this place that just got me?! I still hadn’t fully figured it out, and I knew I’d be back soon. After one definitely-not-final farewell to my friend, I hopped in a taxi to the Youth Commission building for one last meeting with the lovely Youth Trekker committee. I’m pretty sure my sadness at having to leave was evident, and after telling them about some of my favourite moments from the trip, I became quite overwhelmed by how truly amazing my experience had been, and it was all thanks to these lovely people for giving me the chance. I can’t describe how thankful I am! Wow! Before I knew it, it was time to head onwards to the airport…But of course this is Taiwan, so not before one final fateful encounter. There I was, sat in a corner cafe, sipping on some wildberry juice. Something made me glance up and I realised I knew the person walking by. I’d shared a dorm with him three days earlier in Hualien, and now there he was, strolling happily through the streets of Taipei. I tried to chase after him but he’d crossed the road and disappeared by the time I made it outside. Funnily enough he was one of the people I’d been talking about all my little coincidental encounters in Taiwan with. And now, there he was, a part of my peculiar story. That’s how insanely-cool Taiwan is. It’s like one big community. Everywhere I went I met people who knew other people I’d met, or I bumped into people I actually knew from other countries. It’s what makes this place so special and why I’ve loved it so much. It’s a country that makes you feel at home, a country that you really become a part of, and don’t get me started on the creativity flowing throughout this place…inspiring beyond words. And it’s not just the art work, or the theatre, or the live music, it’s the people. The people make a place. And in Taiwan the people are wonderful! They inspired me, motivated me, overwhelmed me with their kindness. They made me laugh, they made me remember that it truly is the little things in life, but most of all they made me want to move here and immerse myself in the exciting, creative catalyst that is, Taiwan! 

a mysterious cat town…

As I woke up, the sun was peeking through the curtains and I felt relaxed as I prepared to leave Hualien. The train was completely full of Chinese tourists so I had to sit myself on the floor in a little corner, but the view more than made up for it. The east coast of Taiwan is absolutely breathtaking! Today the ocean seemed even bluer than yesterday, and the sun rays were bouncing off the sea and straight onto the window of my carriage, making everything seem golden. Instead of going straight back to Taipei, I took a little detour to a cat town, Hutong. Being a big fan of Haruki Murakami’s novels, one of which- 1Q84- he specifically talks about riding a train to a cat town, made me want to visit here. And indeed it was filled with many little feline friends. Most of them were lazily dozing under benches and in amongst the grass, but a special few were strutting their stuff for the few tourists who were visiting. One little tiger was actually pouting and shaking her whiskers. This town was also right in the middle of the mountains, a beautiful backdrop. It used to be an old mining town, and it had recovered itself by using the local feral cats as a way of attracting people and reinventing itself. However, it really did feel like you were in the middle of nowhere. When would the next train arrive? Would you be stuck here with the cats forever? What do the cats do when all the tourists and townspeople go home at night?! It was a quaint afternoon and I left for Taipei feeling as though I’d just encountered something very peculiar. I then spent the rest of the day in the Shi Da area, people watching and eating snacks, while gazing at the rain pour down. I collected my Lomo photos and was really happy with the surprises. They turned out really well, and I hope you like them :) I will share some of my favourites here! I can’t believe I only have 1 more full day in this fantastical country. I’m going to miss it so much! Taiwan man! 

i like to chase butterflies

I awoke very early and couldn’t quite believe I was sleeping in a city; it was so peaceful as we drove towards Taroko Gorge. I was glued to the window thanks to the bluer-than-blue sky and the biggest, fluffiest clouds ever!! I spent the entire day chasing butterflies of all colors and sizes, and just breathing in the fresh gorge(ous) air. The combination of the dramatic, steep cliff drops and the crystal blue water created a kind of mystical, magical feel. It was almost other-worldly. I spent quite a bit of time admiring all the creative phrases and pictures people had composed with rocks, down in the gorge. I decided to make my own art and take some fun photos. After waving goodbye to the breathtaking gorge, we headed to the pebbliest beach I’ve ever been to. It was so pretty in a dark, stormy way. There was an older man with us and he ran into the sea, and as the waves crashed with a big, old boat in the background, it almost looked like he was a sailor who had just been washed up on shore, escaping from the pirates sailing towards us. From blue spring skies, to the murky ocean. The rough, tumultuous waves crashing and foaming on the rocks were actually really relaxing. There was a strong wind and I almost felt like I was in some kind of adventure story! What an amazing day! I then spent the evening exploring Hualien, or should I say…getting lost in Hualien. I wandered for four hours, and I still couldn’t find my way, but I was determined not to ask for help, and like I’ve said before, sometimes getting lost is actually the perfect way to discover all the hidden nooks and crannies of a city. However, now I’m completely exhausted, and so I’m tucked up in bed admiring my photos from today, and dreaming of tomorrow’s adventure, whatever that may be! All I know is that I’m boarding a train at 10am to Hutong- a cat town. I picture a little quaint town filled with cute feline friends and little cafes…I guess time will tell, but I’m sure it’ll be fun whatever the outcome! 

lazy like a monday morning

What I thought would be the most peaceful sleep ever, seeing as I was hidden in the mountains in a forest with only birds and butterflies as friends, turned out to be pretty scary actually…I was sure I was going to run into some snakes, or at least a bear, haha. So I was tossing and turning all night with every crunch of a twig or bark of a dog. I awoke, sunk into my mattress, softer than marshmallows. As I strolled outside to use the toilet (it’s outdoors), it hit me. WOW. Nature, my old friend. The flapping and fluttering of butterfly wings, the crunch of twigs and fresh grass beneath my feet, the cleansing sensation as the morning dew tickled my toes, and the air- so fresh, so green, so blue, so free. Just me and the mountains and the flowers. I could seriously get used to this. As I took my outdoor shower, I decided I wish all showers were like this. It felt so natural to be washing in the middle of such a beautiful land. The feeling of the hot water falling onto rocks and grass, my shampoo snuggled in amongst the flowers, a view of the ocean as I embraced another lovely day on this journey.

After this early morning invigoration, I sat myself down on the porch and just listened to all the sounds of the forest. Then I thought to myself, why don’t I go check out their book collection. This was a good idea. Fate, my old friend, was out to play. As if one of my all-time favourite books, impossible to find these days, was just hiding on one of the dusty shelves. ‘The Last Unicorn’, by Peter S. Beagle. I had no words. Of course it was just chilling there, of course. This place is magical.

I spent the afternoon making a video on my Lomokino- a lomography camera that uses film to create stop-motion pictures, which you can turn into a short movie sequence. I decided to dance in the ocean and write how much I love Taiwan in the sand. There was literally no one on this beach and it was ridiculously beautiful! I love the feeling of sand between my toes, especially on a deserted beach. And the ocean was so refreshing. Such a glorious way to spend a lazy Monday morning.

It got to being about time to head to the train station for my journey to Hualien, but not before stopping in at Cheela’s Café for some raspberry Belgian beer and some to-die-for chocolate cake. This café had a really cool, unique vibe. There was a lot of cool art work and innovative use of old wine-crates as tables. There was also a pretty little garden out the back that connected with the old railway line, which I took a walk along. Many old people were chilling on interesting-looking chairs and just kicking back, having a jolly good time doing nothing.

I said goodbye to lovely Taitung and hopped aboard the train to Hualien. It was dark when I arrived and I got a little lost on the way to my hostel- Formosa Backpackers. But that’s OK. Sometimes getting lost just leads to more interesting explorations. I organised my bus for Taroko Gorge for the next day and me and a guy from the hostel headed out to check out the city and of course, to sample some of it’s delicious treats for the taste-buds.

Now, I’m snuggled up in bed, excited for my trek in the gorge tomorrow, Lomo cameras at the ready for some hopefully, gorgeous scenery! Night night, oh pretty Hualien!

Dulan, you dreamland you…

  I woke up after the best nights sleep, and stared out at the ocean and palm trees blowing in the breeze. I’d heard about a great place for ‘real’ bread, Marino’s Kitchen. So I headed along the road to try out this spot. They weren’t wrong. I opted for ‘super bread’ which is a whole-wheat bread with more than 40 different grains. It was so yummy! I then spent the morning exploring the local area with my friend who I just met the night before. That’s how friendly people here are! Willing to spend their sacred Sunday to show a newbie around. We visited one of his friends who wants to cultivate the land around the place he lives, to grow rice paddies. While they discussed the plans, I basked in the beauty that was this dreamy piece of land. Mountains and palm trees with coconuts behind me, the ocean in front of me and right next to me, an entire field of pink flowers, which I plopped myself down in, and actually spoke aloud to myself ‘is this for real?!’ The lady of the house had backpacked around Scotland when she was younger, and here I was backpacking around the country she lived in. It just seemed right that we should meet. The man of the land was very happy to discuss creativity and the future of Taiwan with me, and it really got my mind ticking. It was so nice to spend a morning sipping tea with new friends and discuss the wonderland that is Taiwan.

I was pretty excited for today because I would be spending the night in a gorgeous little hostel, nestled in the mountains. Taitung Sea Art Hostel, owned by two of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet in this country. The two of them, their adorable son and their pets, live hidden away in the most beautiful spot. A multi-coloured traditional Taiwanese home, which they’ve painted themselves, full of character, surrounded by lush plant life and the mountains and forest, as well as an insane amount of butterflies. You couldn’t ask for a better hide-away. The other two travellers wandered off into the valley to do some yoga, and I was offered some bananas from their tree. How will I ever leave this place, I instantly thought? I flopped onto the softest bed I’ve ever lay down on, and just smiled.

As if one night of music wasn’t enough, the old train station in Taitung was holding a mini music festival called ‘Hello! Taiwan!’ at Tie Hua Music Village. This journey just keeps getting better, keeps exceeding my expectations! Situated on the grounds of the old railway, they’ve created a big open wooden stage for performers right between the trees. Music and nature together, wow! There were 5 bands playing throughout the night, and everyone was just chilling on blankets on the grass, soaking up the atmosphere, and quite literally, the rain. However, to my surprise they were giving away free raincoats to people! Oh yeah! There I was, lying on a blanket in the rain. Cup of lemon tea (1 free drink per ticket- 200NTD) in one hand, camera in the other. And the bands were great! Insane energy! There was one band from Canada and one band from the USA, and three from Taiwan. All of them had such original styles and completely engaged the audience with their own, individual music. At the end of the night they all sang U2’s ‘with or without you’ together and flew their flags and there was a huge sense of togetherness. An accumulation of the cultures, brought together through music. It was really special. And who would have thought such a fun event would take place on a lazy Sunday evening in a sleepy little city?! That’s how cool Taiwan is. Always full of surprises! People like to have a good time here, and everyone was singing and dancing and jumping, and no one cared about the rain or the fact that it was getting late. Even kids were skipping along and enjoying the music. It was such a fun evening, and I’m so glad I got to be apart of it all! Everyone there was chatting and dancing together and generally just enjoying this lovely life! It really is the small things in life, isn’t it?

sugar factory razzles

Have you ever been on an old train, whizzing through emerald green countryside, almost falling off your chair as the train rounds the bend and in front of your very eyes is the glowing blue ocean? This is how I spent my Saturday morning, and I have no complaints. It was probably one the best train rides I have ever been on. Such diverse landscapes. From the glittering city, to the green rice paddies of Ilan county, to the rugged ocean line around Hualien, to more inland rural areas filled with barren rocks and more lush green fields. I was in awe at the mountain backdrop too. It really was the cherry on top of this green wonderland! The east coast of Taiwan has been my favourite part so far. As the train made it’s way further along the coast, I could smell the calm and taste the fresh air.

When I arrived at Taitung train station, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get to Dulan. But alas, fear not. This is Taiwan. Friendly souls are everywhere, and before I had even flung my bag on my back, a group of girls had rounded me up and off we sped along the bumpy roads in a taxi. They were going to the next town over, Chengong, but they were happy to share, and drop me off first. We exchanged emails and gazed at the roaring sea. They dropped me right outside the Sugar Factory and I was instantly drawn to a little stall of home-baked goods. I chose a mini chocolate cupcake and at the same time got directions to my hostel, Dulan 98. I could tell I was going to like this town from the moment I skipped out of the taxi. People were just chilling on the streets chatting and I could almost feel the creativity seeping through the cracks in the road.

Dulan is a very special little place. I don’t even know how to express how I feel about this town. It’s one of those places that I could feel myself getting sucked into, even after one hour. It’s not just because it’s an arty, musical place, but also because it has an intense sense of community, the kind of place where the baker will ask after your mother and where you might recognise everyone after just 24hours in the place.

So I dropped my bags in my dorm. A dorm that was just me and 3 other people. We each had our own level, so I was on the top floor and it was just me, and around 8 empty beds. Hello good nights sleep! It was a funky backpackers. A very chilled vibe, decorated with bright, pastel colours and with little cat ornaments hiding in random corners. I liked it. Not just because it was above a delicious little Mexican food joint, run by a cool reggae musician. I felt at home. There was no keys, no fuss, an open door policy. You could come and go as you pleased, and you didn’t need to worry about a thing.

I got pretty lucky with my timing in Dulan because I arrived on a Saturday evening, when the Sugar Factory has its infamous live-music night. However, on this particular night they were also screening a documentary about one of the aboriginal tribes, focusing on one guy’s passion and strong-will to maintain living in the mountains, where him and his family were brought up. It was extremely inspiring to watch this old man talk about the place he grew up in and loves, his home. This screening was outside in the courtyard of the café, and what better backdrop for such a documentary, than the actual mountains themselves. Stunning!

After the documentary I explored the area, which is on the land of an old sugar factory. It seems it’s pretty popular to turn old factories and warehouses into art spaces. I think it’s not only resourceful, but also these spaces can be used in any way you like, and they add a rugged feel to an art zone. This particular place has quite a few cafes and stalls, so I decided to try them all. I sat myself down on a tyre swing in the trees of a little café that specialises in Japanese cuisine. A fire, music, some strawberries dipped in chocolate, vegetable kebabs, fruit and herb tea, and a whole night of live music ahead…bliss. And really, the music was wonderful! First there was a trio, and the girl had the most beautiful voice. The environment of the café is very intimate, so you really get the chance to connect with the performers. It’s not like you’re sat one hundred rows back, like at The Cranberries concert. After the trio, a couple of guys who’d brought their own instruments started a little jam sesh and they were from an aboriginal tribe, so the music was a new style for my ears, and I liked it a lot! Then of course, when I got back to my hostel, there were musicians jamming in the restaurant/ music space downstairs. Thank you lovely melodies for providing me with the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. I drifted off to the sounds of the guitar from below. Other than that, total silence. No cars, no bikes, just the soothing ocean and the bassy rhythms.